Which Nerds Are Actually Vegan?

Do you love Nerds? I’m not referring to people who by definition spend ungodly amounts of time obsessed about one particular subject or hobby (like myself). I’m referring to that delicious candy brand that’s been around since the 1980s and is available in several varieties such as the Big Chewy Nerds and Nerds Rope.

Some Nerds can be considered vegan, but it highly depends on the flavors you purchase. For instance, grape and strawberry flavors contain carmine, which is essentially made from crushed insects, making it an animal ingredient. Other varieties like Nerds Rope use gelatin as a thickening agent, an ingredient that is obtained by boiling the skin, cartilage, and bones from animals, which is typically the stuff the meat industry considers to be leftovers.

Here is a quick table showing which Nerds are vegan, and which ones aren’t:

Nerds Variety: Is it Vegan?
Nerds Strawberry & Grape No, it contains carmine.
Nerds Watermelon & Cherry Yes.
Nerds Rainbow No, it contains carmine.
Nerds Rainbow Rope No, it contains gelatin and carmine.
Nerds Very Berry Rope No, it contains gelatin and carmine.
Nerds Tropical Rope No, it contains gelatin.
Big Chewy Nerds Yes.
Sour Big Chewy Nerds Yes.
Nerds Gummy Clusters No, it contains gelatin and carmine.

In this article, I’m going to take a deeper look into why Nerds may or may not vegan, and also cover some ingredients that are deemed “questionable” by some vegans, and whether or not they should be consumed. Additionally, I’m also going to provide you with some awesome vegan candy alternatives that you will love.

Why Some Nerds Are Not Vegan

Unfortunately, most Nerds are not vegan. This is because some contain carmine, while others might contain gelatin.

On one hand, we have carmine that is made from crushed bugs. These insects, which are typically referred to as cochineal, are native to Latin America where they live on cacti. Farmed mainly in Peru, millions of cochineal are harvested every year to produce carmine, a coloring agent.

carmine in cactus

Carmine is used in many food products like Nerds, but you’ll also find it extensively being used in the cosmetics industry, namely in red (or dark-red) lipsticks.

Nerds that contain carmine are:

  • Nerds Strawberry & Grape
  • Nerds Rainbow
  • Nerds Rainbow Rope
  • Nerds Very Berry Rope
  • Nerds Tropical Rope
  • Nerds Gummy Clusters

Gelatin, on the other hand, is used as a thickening agent in many food products like Nerds Rope. It’s obtained by boiling the skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones of animals that have been discarded by the meat industry.

Nerds that contain gelatin are:

  • Every Nerds Rope Variety
  • Nerds Gummy Clusters

The only Nerds that seem to be vegan are Nerds Watermelon & Cherry, Big Chewy Nerds, and Sour Big Chewy Nerds. However, that may also depend on whether or not you’re fine with consuming sugar and artificial colors.

Isn’t Sugar Always Vegan?

Sugar is by definition a plant-based ingredient, but it might not always be vegan.

You’ll find two different varieties of sugar in most products: cane sugar and beet sugar. While they taste the same and appear to be very similar in texture, their refinement process is different.

Beet sugar is filtered using a diffuser and mixed with additives to crystallize.

But cane sugar may sometimes be filtered, processed, and bleached with bone char, which is a charcoal-like powder obtained by cremating the bones of cattle.


The good news is that bone char is not used by all suppliers. Some suppliers use plant-based alternatives such as activated charcoal or ion-exchange resins, which ultimately lead to the same result.

However, what I’ve noticed in my research is that among companies, you will find many that have a mixed pool of sugar suppliers. This makes it very difficult to know whether or not a product is vegan because you don’t which type of sugar is actually being used. Products like Oreos have this issue.

Artificial Colors

Nerds, without exception, contain artificial colors.

While I’m sure most vegans consume products with artificial colors (since they’re not fused or derived from animal ingredients), some are against artificial colors.

Evidence suggests that certain artificial colors (Red 40) are routinely tested on animals to prevent potential health risks from popping up. Contrary to what I used to believe, it seems that it’s not a one and done deal.

In fact, in these tests from 2017 and 2018 mice are used as subjects.

In other words, this might indicate that artificial colors are a byproduct of animal cruelty and therefore, some individuals may not be willing to consume them.

100% Vegan Alternatives To Nerds

Since some Nerds contain a few animal ingredients and most contain questionable ingredients such as sugar and artificial, I think it’s a good idea to provide vegans with solutions that are 100% vegan.

Here are some solutions I found that you will probably find appealing:

What’s most interesting about these alternatives is the fact they use real foods.

For example, they include beets, spirulina, blueberries, among other fruits and vegetables to replace artificial colors.

Additionally, you will also find pectin, which is a naturally occurring substance found in many fruits. When cooked together with sugar, it thickens and obtains characteristics similar to jelly. It’s the perfect replacement for gelatin.


Are Nerds Halal?

Unfortunately, not every Nerds flavor is halal. Some contain carmine, which is an insect-derived food coloring.

Here is an email from Willy Wonka Candy Company:

“Thank you for contacting Wonka® Nerds® Rope. Certain flavors of our confections products do contain carmine color, which will be declared in the ingredient statements on the product labels. The presence of carmine color is dependent on the flavor variety. Please always read the product label for the most up to date information. Also, if gelatin comes from pork we simply state gelatin. If it comes from a different source such as beef we would state beef gelatin. We appreciate your interest and hope you will visit our website often for the latest information on our products and promotions.”

Sincerely, Nia Palmer, Consumer Response Representative.

I’ve shared a table with the vegan Nerd varieties, which should also be halal. 

Summary: Not All Nerds Are Vegan

According to the information I’ve collected from Nerds’ official website, only three products are vegan: the Watermelon & Cherry-flavored Nerds, Big Chewy Nerds, and Sour Big Chewy Nerds.

Unfortunately, most varieties contain carmine, while others contain gelatin.

Another important thing to note is that while some Nerds do not contain animal ingredients, they have ingredients like sugar and artificial colors, which may or not be vegan. I’ve explained in the blog post that some sugar is processed using animal bones and that artificial colors may still be getting tested on animals.

For people with a more stringent stance on veganism, perhaps it’s likely that they’ll avoid any foods containing those ingredients, which is fine considering there are a few alternatives available.

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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